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The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has published the results from a telephone survey recently regarding the effectiveness of ESF-funded training during April 2003 - March 2005.

Around 80% of the 1,174 companies involved said that the European Social Fund (ESF) training had improved the quality of their workers. 90% said that they were pleased overall with the training they received. The report seems to show the recent ESF-funded training initiative as being quite a success, with 9 out of 10 businesses being pleased with the scheme. It also seems to be proving its worth, with 8 out of 10 businesses saying there is an improvement in staff performance.

However"¦

But what has happened now that training scheme has ended? What measures were put in place to ensure that all that was learnt will not be lost? Some people may want to know if this training was a one-off event, or will the ESF programme turn the training into a scheme to run every couple of years, for example? These are very pertinent questions. If it is just a one-off, how will companies ensure that they can continue to use the training given to them over a year ago for years to come? Surely the ESF would not want a 22-month training scheme to be wasted by not implementing some sort of "top-up" scheme every year or two?

One of the main reasons that this is of concern is that 85% of the companies taking part had fewer than 50 employees. Larger companies would be able to introduce their own training schemes or as an adjunct to the ESF-funded one (in regards to the other 15%). Small companies benefited from the training immensely, but it would be reassuring to know that it has made a lasting change to their business practises for the better. The survey reported that 80% of the people thought so, but what would the answer be in five years time? Will the benefits and changes gained from the training still be so evident then?

Debatable Fairness

The most common format of training were one-off short courses, followed by one-to-one training sessions and block release courses with employees often asked to study in their own time. Whether this is fair or not is debateable, considering they are doing it for the good of their company.

Another point to be raised is that of the unconvinced 20%; the fifth of the people who said that they didn"t benefit from training. It would have been interesting for the DWP to question them as to why they felt the training was of no help, or if they did, to publish the findings. It may help the ESF to refine their training scheme to help those who it is going to benefit and in turn save money (a fifth, in this case), rather than waste it needlessly in areas that they will not improve.

Lastly, the most common primary focus of the training was IT or computing, followed by Health and Safety, and Business Management. "Soft" skills such as communications skills, team working, customer service skills and time management were also a part of the scheme. Whether or not the ESF got its priorities right could be answered by the high approval rating of the scheme, which could go to show that the ESF got it right on this one.

So, we"ve seen that the training works, but will it last? Will there be lasting changes for the small businesses that underwent the training? If not, what can we learn from it (apart from it being a waste of money)? And when will the next training scheme take place?

At present, only the management responsible for the ESF knows for sure, but with the high success rate of their last training venture, and with enough demand, hopefully the ESF will consider running the scheme once more.

Paul Keely

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